Today we welcome back a film favorite- Jean Harlows nipples! Back in 1932 they were covered in Red Dust and in 1935 they gave us this deja view in China Seas!
Singapore! The jewel of the….well, the China Seas. Our plot revolves around the jaunty, devil may care sea captain and his voyage delivering bullion to people who only have miso currently. Feel free to convert that to todays money in your comments, folks- I’m not here to provide insight, just snark.
Look at that dock! Teaming with humanity and stereotype!
Here’s our intrepid Captain Gaskell! He is at home both at sea and in the parlor. He is no push over and savvy to all high-jinks!
Our cast includes more than a few character actors and notables. Our ships drunk is Robert Benchley! Former New Yorker writer and raconteur. He shared an office with Dorothy Parker!
Here’s Sir Guy Wilmerding! I kid you not. He’s escorting the comely and virtuous widow who will be the foil to Harlows nipples!
Almost done with the white suit brigade, I swear. This is the new 3rd officer. I think they stop numbering after 5- after that you’re a purser or something, whatever. He’s got a sad tale and a bad history- I hope that won’t be a problem.
Here’s our Baddy! Seriously- Margaret O’Brien swears he tried to drown her on another film- the Beery is a bad, bad man. But charming and he knows our leading Lady, Dolly.
But Dolly only has nipples for our captain. She’s designated herself a friendly port and he only thinks of her as a good time gal. Poor Dolly. Surely alone on the wide ocean she’ll have no competition for his affection. Children, this is foreshadowing. Like the big authors do like Proust, Hemingway, and Danielle Steele.
Our captain has his hands full- but he’s seen many a voyage and knows the way of the seas.
Captain Gaskell knows danger is lurking everywhere! This looks suspicious!!!!
Trannies? Not on his watch! It’s 1935 and Will Hayes will not sanction such- Oh, my bad. They are pirates dressed as women to sneak on board! If they were simply expressing their need to live openly according to their inner voice, Captain Gaskell would have applauded their courage and given them all vouchers for the midnight lounge where a Roberta Flack cover artist is performing nightly. But NO quarter for pirates!!! Get off our ship!!
What’s this? A brunette! In garments with ease and demure textiles! It must be a lady of quality!
Why Captain Gaskell! How surprising to see you here on your ship! Enter Mrs Barkley- society widow!! He’s knows her from his time in England.
Later on, back in the captains cabin, Gaskell tries to set Dolly straight- they have no future and she needs to drape her barnacles over another vessel!
In a move that I can’t believe got by the censor board, Dolly hops up on his rack (that’s no euphemism) and tries to tempt him and borrow a book? Who doesn’t know that salt air effects antique bindings and Gaskell would never store his better tomes here? Duh, Dolly.
Time passes, children are born, Dolly tries to move on. Random cruiser with fabulous dress time! She also thinks her husband buys her paste jewelry, but who really cares, right? It’s not like he ignores you for 5 strange men and a chessboard.
I’m glad this shipboard Romeo tries to steal her gum and her heart so we could see the sleeves better.
Dolly and her maid (Hattie McDaniel, I love you!) are preparing for dinner at the captains table.
When Dolly theme dresses, she goes all in. She’s like a southern girl with seasonal sweaters. When in Singapore, she will dragon up, even in her lounge wear. This gets bonus points- dragon and…..wait for it…..
Gentle readers, the moment has come. at 26 minutes into this classic- Harlow brings the nips to dinner.
Thru what is CLEARLY a clerical error, Dolly is seated closer to the galley than usual. I wonder why the captain isn’t giving her his full attention?
Tension ensues and catty bantor, but eventually Lady Barkley Square puts our girl in her place- finishing school style.
Don’t screw with Auntie Mame. After dinner, Captain Gaskell heads for the bridge to prove he knows where it is. He is alerted to a major storm!
Dolly is AGAIN in the captains cabin. She’s quite the smoker and stores her extra menthols in his cabin. Kind of territory marking with nicotine as it were.
The next day the skies show nary a cloud, so the entitled passengers enjoy a hearty breakfast and shooting stuff.
Dolly is snarking it up with the gentry-
It’s a good time to admire Jeans Hamburglar hat and fancy curls.
Time for a dress change! I remember the first time I saw this film- I fell in love with her lame dress- I just know it’s red. I just know it!
The captain wants everyone to remain calm- the storm is due.
Panic ensues! The waves crash! Unflattering life vests are worn!
Dolly and the Beery take their party back to his cabin- he’s totally blotto. She wins the drinking game and takes her winnings from his wallet where she spots the half note that is the international sign of pirate conspiracy! Every year on my safety tests at work I get the hazmat stuff wrong. How do people know all these signs and symbols? Is it a class somewhere??? Ok, so where were we? Oh yeah-
The weather started getting rough- the tiny ship was tossed.
On no! He wakes up and sees her trying to go warn the captain of :
Captain Phillips: the Prequel but he stops and threatens her. He can’t believe she is going back to captain hair gel after he has ignored her for Demure Mutton! But he’ll let it slide if she behaves. Some threats should help.
Well, its the day after and no one is really up for shuffle board. Lots of souls lost, rum overboard, chiffon dresses irreparable. 5th Officer Albatross comes to report that as in most crises, he was cowering and ineffectual. I see no future redemption for him. He has not earned his pith helmet this day. Must tragedy bring out the turtlenecks on the seas?
Dolly tries to warn the captain in a lounge robe worthy of Mr Furley. He will not listen! She leaves the cabin and Beery spots her and accuses her of treachery! But what is this? Dolly has stolen the Captains key to the armory! Bad Dolly! Don’t combine a bad relationship end with universal harm. Bad Karma Dolly.
Just when you think your bad day has reached its zenith. Pirates. Yup- not those fun musical theatre types either. These are soulless curs of the archipelagos. Mercy! They are here for the bullions! It’s all about the Bullions!
Their leader herds every one into the main lounge Agatha Christie style and refuses to deal with anyone but Beery. Welcome to the brotherhood of men in robes.
They open up the armory, they smash all the hummels, they chase the passengers! The shoot the recently demoted ships mime.
But the bullion casks are full of sand! What??? Who knew? Surely the captain knew.
Beery begs him to give up the loot- or he’ll get……the BOOT!
Ugh- this is gross. Captain Gaskell was the ships best hope in the Merchant Marines annual 3- legged race, too. What a bummer. I’ll save you the torture scenes- just know that it’s not so pleasant and probably on schedule for Fall of 2021:
Looks like our mime is waking up and looking for a place to hide. Or is he?
After much pointless boot twisting the captain refuses to tell about the bullion. They throw him into his own brig. Rude!
But here comes the 5th officer/mime! He’s on the redemption road!
It was sad, yet poignant. Who knew he had a name. huh. Back in harbour, Captain Gaskell interrigates the suspects.
He knows Dolly knows. But does Dolly know that he knows? She refuses to talk. She’s jonesin’ for a ciggie tho.
Aha! Dolly can’t find the box with the marlboro points on it! How can she get that jet ski? Worse yet! She can’t find the half note.
But she tried to tell him- but he was too busy with work and his hoity-toity widow! Fine! I knew and I’ll go to jail for it!
Beery has other plans. He’s taken poison to avoid jail! Well, satisfied with his job, Captain Gaskell returns to the bridge. Where Lady Barkley Square is waiting. She sees he’s a man of the waves. She knows that altho she’s a fine girl and a good wife she would be- his life, his love, his lady is the sea. They bid fond fairwell.
Captain Gaskell prepares to take Dolly to the magistrates. He won’t cut her a break.
In his heart he knows she was just a pawna dn that he truly owns her heart and she his. Aw……
Happy at last, she departs for prison and he vows to wait for her……and to bring tweezers when he visits.
photo credits: little me.